BEMIDJI—On the stage, Larry Sundquist and Steve Holley sat comfortably in the lead as team after team weighed in their catches at Saturday's Knights of Columbus Walleye Classic.
The crowd erupted as the last team found out that they missed out on first place by less than half a pound. And so Holley and Sundquist took home the Walleye Classic championship for a second time—reeling in 13.86 pounds of walleye. They are the first team to win the Walleye Classic twice, having previously won in 2004.
"It feels really great with the caliber of fishing," Sundquist said. "It takes some luck, too, and we were really lucky today to win for a second time."
Holley and Sundquist claimed their championship jackets, plaques and posed with their $12,500 check. Second-place winners, Duane and Travis Peterson, brought in 13.38 pounds of walleye and netted $5,000.
Teams took their turns crossing the stage talking about their highs and lows of the tournament experience on a windy day out on Lake Bemidji and Lake Irving. Wind gusts were as high as 29 mph in Bemidji on Saturday, according to the National Weather Service website.
But, the windy fishing weather did not lessen the crowds that showed up at the Lake Bemidji waterfront to participate in activities or cheer on anglers as they returned from the water. The sunshine kept children running around the waterfront with balloons tied to their wrists, families eating from food vendors and fans watching from picnic tables and benches.
Anglers await the 7 a.m. start of the Knights of Columbus Walleye Classic on Saturday on Lake Bemidji.
Boats launched at 7 a.m. Saturday into a hazy sunrise on Lake Bemidji, with a 90 percent return rate of last year's participants. Tournament Director Joe Czapiewski said that the largest crowds showed up during the weigh-in portion of the event.
"We see the biggest crowd numbers when people show up to support the anglers," Czapiewski said.
Czapiewski said they strive to release as many fish back into the lake to remind the anglers of the value walleye have to Lake Bemidji.
Through the years, the event has raised more than $700,000 dollars, benefiting local organizations in and around Bemidji.
This year, the Knights of Columbus named 11 beneficiaries for the tournament, with proceeds going to the Boy Scouts of America, Bemidji Youth Baseball, Fishing Has No Boundaries, Let's Go Fishing, the Minnesota Department of National Resources, the George Pelawa Foundation, Special Olympics, Take a Kid Fishing, and the Wounded Warriors Guide Service, All-Pro Dads and the Knights of Columbus.
Several representatives from those beneficiary groups spoke to the crowd about the meaning the Walleye Classic has to their organizations and how they benefit.
"Some of these kids' best memories are of fishing; for us it is a good community organization and event," said Terry Belanger, All-Pro Dads representative "Our organization wouldn't be possible without the support of the Knights and this tournament."
Beneficiaries gave their time to help set up the event, along with other volunteers, and local organizations ran activities along the waterfront for families of anglers and other visitors. Many businesses also contributed non-cash prize packages, and there were raffle prizes, as well.
Official results will be available on the Knights of Columbus website; the weigh-ins and awards ceremony can be streamed on their Facebook page.
Last year's winners were the father-son duo of Dean and Toby Kvalevog, with a combined weight of 17.6 pounds.